Posted 23 months ago

So after about six months of volunteering in the Meals on Wheels production kitchen, I had to conclude that my arthritic hands and ageing back were not conducive to a 5 hour shift of energetic cooking.

  But Debbie, manager extraordinaire of the Southern Highlands Meals on Wheels, wouldn’t let me stop there. She immediately started offering me delivery shifts. Eager to help, I signed up for a shift one fine autumn morning. When I pulled up to the delivery station, all I saw was a row of large blue freezer boxes, each accompanied by a clipboard and pen. On the clipboard was a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and specific delivery notes for the clients on my run.

 Very different from the production kitchen which has an extraordinary array of fresh food, frozen food, dried food, packaged food staples, et cetera.

 Same challenge though...can you find it? enough eggs to make 100 Yorkshire puddings, number 47 on the street that only goes to 40... I reviewed the list and wondered if the addresses were in any kind of organised route. Okay, I loaded my box and my clipboard, set the GPS for the first address and off I went. Oh, is this what’s on the other side of the high school! That was my first delivery discovery, that I would go into corners of the highlands I never knew existed. Excellent!

  Triple Check theaddress, triple check the name, grab (after triple checking) the appropriate bag from within the blue freezer box, and knock on the door. My second delivery discovery was that the client never ever fails to smile when they receive their bag of goodies, deserts, salads, main meals, or the special customised combo. As autumn progressed to winter, those smiles became more welcoming to keep me warm. 

 The morning went on as my first three clients were in the same block of flats, then out to the other side of town, then out to one of the furthermost parts of the southern highlands, and then back to base. Gave back the bag, gave back the clipboard with its list of clients annotated with comments ranging from all good to requires yarn for knitting beanies to didn’t answer phone, didn’t answer knock on the door, no car in the driveway...(all followed up by the beautiful MOW staff).

 Discovery three was that the variety of clients is almost as wide as the variety of dishes prepared in the kitchen. Old, young, healthy, infirm, couples, singles, with dog or cat, without...

 Then Covid 19 came along. Each clipboard came with a hygiene control protocol, a box of plastic gloves and a bottle of sanitiser. Remember when sanitiser was impossible to find? Thankfully Meals on Wheels did not run out. The number of clients grew not only by the vulnerable people who didn’t want to go out but by the number of volunteers who had become vulnerable and now needed the service they had formerly helped to provide. I started doing different days and different shifts in different locations, Meeting different people. One client asked me to put her delivery on the table on her small patio so we could have contactless delivery. One other invited me to come in and have a coffee before I continued on my way. Once again, the variety of responses to Covid 19 was endless.

 And I’d say that’s been a key to my volunteering so far. Variety, which is not surprising when you’re dealing with both food and people. And, as a person who thrives on variety, I hope to be helping Meals on Wheels Southern Highlands for a long time to come.